Newly elected Archbishop Beach. ACNA photograph.
What does the election of Bishop Foley Beach mean for ACNA? I have a few guesses and thoughts, all of which may look foolish when his term expires in 2024, but which I am recording nonetheless.
1. The first-generation era of the Realignment is over. Leaders such as Bishop Minns, Chuck Murphy, John Guernsey and Archbishop Duncan will no longer lead ACNA or the sub-jurisdictions. This is a good thing. While they achieved a great deal, it is time for a new wave of leaders with ACNA. I date the beginning of the realignment from the First Promise / AMiA consecrations and the end (or the end of the beginning) to the collapse of AMiA, the election of Bishop Dobbs in CANA and now Bishop Beach for ACNA.
2. Picking Bishop Beach should unite the tribes, at least to a degree. Bishop Beach appears to be a middle of the road, generic evangelical, and that’s just fine. He is against the ordination of women to the ministry, which satisfies both Reformed Anglicans and Anglo Catholics. He preaches a very Biblical salvation message, which should satisfy all of us, but particularly those who may have supported a Guernsey candidacy. His election should put at ease those who may have wondered what direction ACNA was heading had Bishop Guernsey won.
3. There will be a continued growth narrative for ACNA because the Diocese of South Carolina will join up once the dust settles. If this happens, ACNA’s numbers will jump quite a bit, although they are starting from a small base. We have to realize that in the world of Southern Baptists, the Assembly of God, and many other denominations, ACNA is a small fish in a big pond. Even the PCA had 335,000 members as of 14 years ago. So Anglican 1000 is good and necessary, but the ACNA growth story is a bit illusory right now.
4. His election makes the end of affinity dioceses more likely. Unless there are obvious theological reasons, there is really no reason for CANA and PEAR USA to continue to exist. The feeling I had listening to Bishop Dobbs preach at PEAR USA’s “Moving Forward Together” Assembly in 2012 was that things were still so muddled and ACNA’s theology so unclear, that we should maintain these African-run organizations. I don’t think that is the case anymore, and that is due to Archbishop-elect Beach. The centrist, big-tent version of ACNA is being cemented into place with the possible ten-year term of Archbishop Beach. We don’t need PEAR USA and CANA as lifeboats. I think we will see PEAR USA wrap up operation in his first five years and I hope CANA does the same.
5. Along the same lines, with the completion of a Prayer Book on the horizon, and the Catechism in place, what ACNA stands for in broad terms is now apparent. I will write more about this at another time, but my point is that the identity of ACNA is now stabilizing, and is not totally up for grabs in the way it might have been had we seen a strong Anglo-Catholic elected, or another pro-WO bishop. There should be progress on WO under Archbishop Beach, but I don’t think it will be totally rolled back.
6. Archbishop Beach gets social media, at least to an extent not seen to date by other leading bishops. He has a blog, he has a Twitter account, he is not allergic to the year 2014. Hopefully this means that the disturbing tendency of some in ACNA to want to rein in speech on the internet or try to control the message will fade out.
7. GAFCON will continue, but what does it really mean? I don’t see much evidence that GAFCON enforces the Jerusalem Declaration or the Nairobi Communique. There seems to be no GAFCON disciplinary apparatus at all, which means that it is just another voluntary grouping, which will work as long as the member churches want it to, and no longer. Without launching an exhaustive survey, I believe that the Jerusalem Declaration (JD) was a good deal more Reformed in outlook than what ACNA looks to be. ACNA wrote the JD into its founding documents, but is there any enforcement mechanism of these standards at all?
I expect Archbishop Beach to continue with GAFCON and praise it, but I don’t know what that means practically for ACNA. I hope he educates himself on the problems inherent with member nations like Uganda and Rwanda, where churches are tightly aligned with dictators (see Ephraim Radner’s recent First Things article). I hope he lives up to what the Nairobi Communique said about violence against people, not just in the case of Western abortion, but also with nations like Rwanda, where our State Department is more prophetic than PEAR USA has ever been about disappearing citizens and support for rebellions in neighboring nations. This Church-State alliance threatens to make GAFCON a body that cares about some ethical standards while completely ignoring other, possibly weightier matters. Realistically, I don’t think Bishop Beach will say much about this, but I hope so.
Finally, while there are challenges ahead of him, I don’t think they are as great as those faced by Archbishop Duncan. I think things are settling down and the version of ACNA that exists in 2019 or 2024 will be far more stable than it is even today.